Personalized Theme Alphabet for Preschool/K

It’s been a while since I’ve thought about kindergarten curriculum. But now I have an eager child wanting to learn everything, and she’s not old enough for K (traditionally speaking). So I told her we’re doing K4 this year.

I recently pulled some things off the walls–things my sons used for kindergarten and higher but that I won’t use for her. When she saw me take off the medieval themed alphabet, she protested.

But I am choosing not to reuse that for a reason–it doesn’t hold meaning. She kept asking “What does a G look like?” (While I’m cooking dinner) and when I told her to look for the gauntlet on the ABC chart, that didn’t help her because she doesn’t know those medieval terms like the back of her hand, as her knight-loving brothers did!

But I got nostalgic as I took it down. The end of an era. I made that 6 years ago.

ELi first day school 001

My oldest child, my first little knight, on first day of school ever.

But I should say, I’ve gotten more excited about teaching my daughter preschool stuff more than about the boys’ subjects this year. Not sure why. It just seems so fun, so relaxed, so cute.

But back to the alphabet: she protested, so to curb the complaints/tears, I explained that we could make a new alphabet out of things she likes. She got all excited, talking about making ballerina and fairy letters. That is one of the purposes behind this designing: make it something the child is interested in.

The second reason I made my sons a themed image alphabet is purely academic–and about brain development. When a child is the typical age for kindergarten, the child’s brain sees letters and groups of letters that make word as IMAGES. They don’t see lines and circles forming individual letters. They don’t see words being formed by individual letters. Instead, they see an over-all shape defined mostly by the contours, the outer edges. Cat is not c plus a plus t. It’s more like a shape that is curved at one end and straight with a bar sticking out at the end, and something in the middle. For letters, it is the same–the first processing isn’t about how to construct the letter, but rather recognizing the shape its contours cut against the white background.

One suggestion I’d read more than once about assigning pictures/objects to a letter for its sound: it’s much more effective to have that object form the letter shape. Arrows make A, a dragon makes the D shape, etc. The image making the shape reinforces the their acquisition of the alphabet and phonics in the way kids’ brains naturally process information.

So for my knight-loving firstborn, we approach our letters this way. For each he learned, we made a card. I drew the letter on a little card, incorporating an image that starts with that letter’s sound, to help make an association between the shape and the sound. (When we were all done, I made little posters by photocopying them on three pages and hung them on the wall. I kept the originals separate and used them as flash cards.)

medieval abc 001

He got to color most of them and loved building onto this through the weeks.

Some were obviously more challenging than others. B was challenging just to try to make a breastplate assume a B shape. U, X, Y, and Z were challenging just to figure out what ot draw for that sound.

If I had it to do over, I’d change O because as it is, the sound is not either the long or short o–it’s oo as in shoe. (Not a good teaching tool.) Same with X. This is a common problem. Xylophone, the gold standard in my day for this phoneme, is incorrect because the x in that word also doesn’t make the x sound–it makes the z sound.


medieval ABC page 2 color 001

While the theme was medieval-era things, I had to branch out to medieval-inspired fantasy of Lord of the Rings.

medieval ABC page 3 color 001

Who knows what my daughter and I will make for our new themed alphabet.

In high school art class, my husband and I both had the assignment to design an alphabet themed on a particular subject. I made my alphabet out of clown acrobats; he made his of race car parts. I think we were freshmen in high school? I remember loving the challenge of tying to make human bodies form each shape. I will be doing it again, I guess, with dancers and faeries. Oh boy–I’d better get thinking now what could be done for each sound…. Without delay!

My daughter is impatient for more formal learning. She’s been carrying her notebook around for a month of summer, copying her letters from a fridge chart, asking to be taught things. When I took the medieval alphabet down, it spurred more curiosity. She asked me something about the days of the week. As I was making dinner, I took 5 minutes and recreated a chart I once made for my boys (long gone) about the days of the week, and sang her the song I made up for them.

days of week preschool chart 001 (2)

(To the tune of Mary Had a Mary Had a Little Lamb)

Sunday, I had an ice cream Sundae,

Monday, I lost all my money

Tuesday, I learned to count to two

and Wednesday, I went to a wedding.


Thursday I was thirsty all day

Friday, I ate French fries

Saturday I saw all day,

and then we start over with Sunday.


As studious as could be, she sat down and copied my little chart (after drawing an ice cream cone on top of mine), and sang the song over and over, smiling in bliss.

It’s hard NOT to get excited about going back to preschool stuff with this child 🙂

To any homeschoolers and teachers out there, have a great year!


Other things I write about:

My Dad, Monsanto, Cancer and Christmas Trees

Making Your Homeschool Schedule (and the revelation of a circle graph)

Mirror-Image Drawing, Week 2, Classical Conversations, Native American

3 Reasons Why You Should Still Garden (even when you don’t really have time to do it well)






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Perspective Drawing Lesson, Week 5, Lego Figures

Perspective. The younger students typically learn about vanishing points and draw a road. Another popular one I’ve seen in recent years is an aerial view of the tops of buildings, each of them disappearing into a vanishing point on the ground. My challenge in teaching the oldest students (9-12 year olds) in Foundations for Classical Conversations is presenting them a different kind of project for perspective.

The entire drawing unit begins with the idea of basic shapes. In my lesson 1, I take it to the next step with the basic geometric shapes that are formed by the OiLs (basic shape components). So when we get to perspective, the key skill remains being able to observe the basic shapes as they are, and not how we think they are, when our perspective changes them.

For this project, I wanted something for students to draw to apply perspective to things other than landscapes. I’d asked students what things they loved, and I got answers that included Legos, Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. For this lesson, I incorporated all three in the choices I gave them.

Step 1. I list on the board the skills we’ve learned so far by asking ask the students as I write. The list is 1. Trace oiLs nad basic geometric shapes, 2. Measure–with whatever you have on hand, to get proportion right, 3. Turn the image in another direction to help you see it differently, if that helps.

Step 2. Give students an orignal to copy. Below you see one option I gave: Arwen from Lord of th rings, Lego figurine. After weeks of everyone drawing male characters from history and literature, I thought it was about time for a female! (The girls in class thought so too.)

I normally use coloring pages, but alas, I couldn’t find one. So I did give them the image below.

Step 3: I ask them, what do we do first when we approach a new thing to draw? Answer: observe and TRACE the basic shapes/geometric shapes. On the paper, I have kids trace the shapes they see in the two sides of her skirt, those hands, her hair, ear, etc.  Just the basics, no details.


Image result for lego arwen

I said this lesson is about how perspective changes our perception of shapes. Kids know how blocky Lego figures are; they know what shapes the hands are. But having to trace them makes them see that, sometimes, that perfect “C” curve is altered and not perfectly symetrical. Or maybe they find what they know is always a square or rectangle is suddenly showing up on paper as a diamond shape. THAT is perspective–how the vantage point changes our perception of a shape.

For instance, last year, during cycle 2, we worked on a castle. When students traced one of the walls, they saw that what they KNEW t be a rectangle was actually a parallelogram. So yes, even on lesson 5, I still ask them to trace the shapes. A habit to help discipline our observational skills.



Many boys preferred drawing Yoda. I found this image of Yoda here.

Step 4. Hand out blank paper. On it, instruct kids to duplicate the basic shapes they traced, using the skill of measuring how big those shapes are to help get them the right size and in proportion. (Check out my lesson on measuring/mirror-image for clarification.) As always, I remind them to keep their pencil lines light and loose–we can erase lines we don’t want later then.

TIP: If you have students whose drawings do not evidence actual observation of the shapes, I suggest walking everyone through a small part of the drawing. I’d focus on the hand or an arm. I’d show my tracings, then what I transfor to my paper–or even better, draw it on the board. After direct instruction of each step, I’d check on the students. Some students need this slowed-down, direct approach or they are content to glide by all the instructions and draw the way they’ve always drawn. Encourage and applaud any tiny change that reveals they are approahcing the task differnetly and getting any increment closer to repersenting what they see!

Below step 5 is my drawing. While my other lessons have had drawings broken down in these steps, this one I did in class with the students, so I don’t have a photo of the drawing at only step 4. My drawing shows step 5 work done as well.

Step 5. After basic geometric shapes are done, then it’s time for details: what specific shape are those eyes and eyelashes, etc.? (My drawing is violating what is now one of my big “rules”: don’t do the details until you have the basic shapes of the whole image done. According to that, I should finish her skirt’s basic contours before doing her facial details. (In my defense, this was from 3 years ago, first year tutoring, and I’d not refined my method yet.)

perspective lego arwen 001

This is how far I got in class, while instructing. Students got further than I did, if I remember correctly.

Ste p 6. Finish at home, if interested, adding color even!

I like this lesson for perspective because I feel they’ve had years of looking at perspective in landscapes and it’s often not applied to other types of images. Students need to see how perspective change the expected shapes of many every day objects.

Anyone have any other ideas for good applications for perspective?


Other blogs:

Abstract Drawing Lesson, Week 4

Upside-Down Drawing, Week 3

My Dad, Monsanto and Christmas Trees

3 Reasons Why You Should Still Garden (even when you don’t really have time to do it well)

18 Things I Didn’t Do This Summer (Is Summer Mom Guilt A Thing?)


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My Dad, Monsanto and Christmas Trees

My mom is the one who told me. She told me she saw the information in a TV commercial. Class-action lawsuits against Monsanto, on behalf of people who developed lymphoma and other cancers after exposure to its weed-killer, Roundup.

dad maine 001

My father, a Christmas tree farmer, died not long after turning 45, battling Non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 2001. He was diagnosed in 2000. In 1999, a study in Sweden (A Case-Control Study: non-Hogkin Lymphoma and pesticide exposure.) found that agriculture workers who used pesticides contracted lymphomas at 2.7 times the rate of others. (That’s not just twice as often; that’s nearly three times as often.) But we didn’t know about that as my father battled and passed away. I didn’t find out about that study until years later, through the American Cancer Society. I was trying to understand more, get answers.

My mother has a huge bin she calls her “Dave bin,” full of things related to him and his illness. I’ve watch her read through papers, looking for names of oncologists and surgeons, diagnoses and dates. I’ve been through that bin alone before. Every page. Dried flowers from his grave preserved by his sister Bev. Emails to and from me and others during the time my parents were away in a hospital, separated from us kids. I was 22, teaching school. My younger siblings were in college, high school and middle school.

My first thought about the class-action suit was surprise that that hadn’t been done already. I’ve known for so long. Did it really take 18 years for these results to be repeated enough in studies and get attention in this country?

I’d learned all this years ago–and then I’d stopped looking for new research. So it’s news to me now about the Round-ups specific meta-study that showed that incidence of lymphoma is two-fold among those exposed to Monsanto’s Roundup, specifically. And Sweden did another study, in 2008, showing link between glyphosate (RoundUp is one example) exposure and developing lymphoma in ten years. Or a study of farm workers in the Midwest with high incidences of the cancer. And a study in Canada finding the relationship. (Links here)

Some of the lawsuits hinge on allegations that Monsanto knew and continued to sell its product—without warning the public.  About emails and cover-ups, back-room deals and attempts to kill studies . . .

My father was a tree farmer. He used those sprays, Roundup included, for up to about 15 years, I think. In a big tank on wheels pulled behind a tractor, with a hose he held to aim as he combed his fields. Mom telling him to shower as soon as he came in, sweaty and wet from the blowback of the spray, pine needles stuck to his skin and beard.

So ask me why I don’t buy farmed Christmas trees. Others see a cute family business; I see a family in danger.

So ask me why I refuse to use Roundup. Why I spray weeds at my house with a vinegar and epsom salt solution instead. Why I cried when someone sprayed the remainder of a bottle of Round-up on our property to “use it up.”

So ask me why I buy organic food. “Cheaper” food grown with pesticides comes at such a high cost: the health, maybe even lives, of those who grew it for me to eat. Men with families. Migrant workers. Couples trying to raise children. And children themselves helping with the farm work. As my family’s “indoor girl” who preferred to help with he babies, I never helped  Dad with anything on the tree farm except trimming. (I was good at shaping Christmas trees.) I am one of four sisters and I do think if we’d been boys, we’d likely have been doing some of that work–and our brother, the last born of us, may have taken on spraying if my father had lived longer. (As it happened, my brother was 10 when my father was diagnosed and the farm work was discontinued.)

So ask me why I don’t buy/support GM (genetically modified) foods. It’s not just the guinea-pig nature of changing the DNA of our food supply and the complications–it’s for the fact that most of the GM foods are modified in order to tolerate being sprayed heavily with Roundup! (Is that not crazy?) GM food, through some unexpected consequences of resistance, now is drenched in even more of the chemicals. (And I don’t really want to eat that food either.)

Food is grown by people. Food grown with pesticides is grown by people whose skin is absorbing those pesticides. Those people are someone’s father/mother, husband/wife, son/daughter, brother/sister. Like my father.


Other things I write about:

Creating an Encouraging Classroom

18 Things I Didn’t Do This Summer (Is Summer Mom Guilt A Thing?)

Mirror-Image Drawing, Week 2, Classical Conversations, Native American

3 Reasons Why You Should Still Garden (even when you don’t really have time to do it well)


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3 Reasons Why You Should Still Garden (even when you don’t really have time to do it well)

The first year we gardened was only 4 years ago, I think. We were ambitious with our raised bed garden and planted many things. Each year I say, that was too many things–I don’t have time for all that! Because a garden is a commitment–some plants more than others. And for growing with organic methods, there is a learning curve. It takes research and a spirit of willingness to learn new growing strategies and new (old) ways to solve problems.

This year, I knew what our summer was like as far as travel and other plans, so I planned to plant only three things: lettuce, peppers, and green beans. AND THEN–my ability to tend to what I’d planted–meager though it was–decreased even more due to an injury. Some crops weren’t doing so well. One of my original 3 was pretty much a wash (lettuce).

And yet–I am so glad I did bother planting at all. For 3 reasons:

  1. Your garden going somewhat wild leads to pretty cool things.


I have 5 raised beds and decided to plant only 3. One I covered with a tarp after I realized I couldn’t keep the weeds at bay. The other had some mint in it, remnants from years past. I left that mostly alone for my daughter who loved to play in it and water it and tend “her crop.” She loves picking her “mints” and asking me to make tea from it.

BUT the really cool thing was that for the first time, I saw the mint go so wild that it blossomed on the tops (3-4 feet high) with tiny purple flowers–and suddenly my garden was like a disco for at least 12 varieties of bees and wasps, and butterflies! For weeks I saw beautiful butterflies of many types. Today I saw a few that are probably moths, all orange and browns, with many pairs of eyes in its wing design. (above)

And my favorite–lots of Swallowtails. Today I saw at least 7 at a time flitting from mint to Queen Anne’s lace. (And in trying to get a picture of them for days, I’m wondering if Swallowtails travel in a group. They seemed to be there or not en mass.)


And all that butterfly/bee activity–which I’ve never seen the likes of in my garden–led to bigger crop outputs than expected, based on how little I invested. (All those pollinators!)20170817_100912

2. Kids get so much from watching things grow.


Here’s my daughter pointing to our first apples ever to come from planting trees years ago. Now this is not part of my garden, but like the cucumbers and beans in my garden, she loved to check the progress on growing things–amazed. There are few things better than a summer evening with a child in the garden with me, inspecting the buds of a plant, being fascinated by a preying mantis found among leaves carrying a grasshopper away, or counting all the “baby” beans with glee, planning our future dinner menu.

Tonight we ate our green beans. They were so tender, with no tough strings–and my kids had 2nd and 3rd helpings! (And I just have to mention the pears–they are no work at all–as the best, juiciest, most plentiful crop we’ve seen in 10 years!)


3. You learn a lot–from plants that fail.

The cucumber plants in this photo below are dying. I didn’t plan to plant them at all this year because every year, our crop gets worse and worse. Last summer, we got nothing but a few cucumber that curved and went mushy on the vine at the size of about 3 inches. I hadn’t solved the puzzle of why, and I knew I didn’t have the time to research and try new solutions this year.


Then my sons got seeds from someone and so I planted half a dozen, just to see. I put them in a different location in the garden. I planted them late–one recommendation for planters trying to beat squash bugs–the theory being that planting later makes present bugs realize there is nothing in this garden for them, so they move on. (And after they’ve moved on, the sprouts come up.) So yes, that was my plan all along–plant them late as a strategy! (Yeah–let’s go with that…)

I was amazed at how healthy and vibrant my 4 plants were–gorgeous! No sign of bugs, and everything was lush, producing better cucumbers than we’ve ever had.

THEN, after a lot of rain last week, I saw the damage. Yellow spots all over. A fungus. The plentiful water had hastened its spread. This can’t be curbed, but it can be prevented by a baking soda spray early on. (So now I know that for next year.)

It was invaluable information I learned from a crop I put little into, as I did not have time to be really invested. Now I know that I’d not figured out my plants’ failings in past years was because it was actually 2 different issues. (I’d only ever treated the plants for one, not realizing it was 2 issues.)

So, what have you learned from a failed garden?


What have you learend this summer from planting?


Other things I write about:

Basic Shapes Drawing Lesson, Week 1, Classical Conversations

18 Things I Didn’t Do This Summer (Is Summer Mom Guilt A Thing?)

Making Your Homeschool Schedule (and the revelation of a circle graph)

The “Perfect” Schedule–and When It Falls ApartThe “Perfect” Schedule–and When It Falls Apart

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Abstract Drawing Lesson, Week 4

Ah, the Abstract art lesson–the lesson some kids love because of its great departure from everything else they’ve been learning about observing reality closely! Designed for week 4 of the drawing unit for Classical Conversations, this lesson uses students’ faces–realistic or cartoonish representation–as inspiration.

For my class of 9-12 year olds (Masters), I gave them the option of either approach (realistic or cartoon). This could be done as self-portraits if you had mirrors for every student, or classmates’ faces. I chose to have kids draw each other.

To understand one style of abstract art, we looked at some cubist faces by Modern artist George Braque (who, with Picasso, created the Cubist art movement):


Found here.

Head of a Woman found here

Braque had become consumed with the idea that “everything in nature is based on the sphere, cone, and cylinder.”  (For more on cubism, check here.)

Yes–basic geometric shapes! Ha ha, coming back around to lesson one!

In both these, we discussed what students observed: most notably, that the faces were very simple. One is broken down into geometric shapes. The other combined the side view with the frontal view. both are examples of an abstraction.


The project:

Step 1. I passed paper out to students. I described that we would make such faces as Picasso did–out of our neighbors’ faces in the class. Yes, that s followed by an apostrophe was purposeful–students can draw multiple sutndets’ features in this project. It works best if kids have access to seeing classmates who are both facing them as well as situated near them in profile (such as in sitting around tables).

Step 2. I ask students to draw maybe the nose of the person on their left, one eye from someone across the table, an ear from a person on the right, etc. A fun mix and match. And they may draw with very simple, bold lines as in The Sailor. Or students can go for photo-realism. Either way.

But in either case, I’m asking the students to look at the student they are drawing at the moment, from whatever point of view, to find recognizable BASIC SHAPES. (As I laid the foundation in lesson 1, I continue asking students too look for the basic shapes as described in OiLs as well as simple geometric shapes that are formed by the OiLs.) Below, my cartoon version really captures the spirit of this. (This version of the project is easier and really drives home the way of abstract artists to distill complex images into extremely basic shapes.)

Below, see how the hair is made of sections I saw as triangles. The nose is a simple angle. I had fun making each eye with a different way of overlapping circle shapes. (I wish I had simplified the basic shapes of that hand more.) I pointed out to students how some of the features are in profile, some are from straight-on. I also wish I’d finished this and put color all over it, as I’d started. In fact, I think I will before I do this lesson again; this is as far as I got in my example in class last time I did this

color abstract cartoon face cycle 3 001


Here is one where each feature is drawn realistically–but not put together realistically. I would save this for a more advanced group of drawers or perhaps if I had the same kids more than one year. This would be a second/harder version to try.

abstract realistic face, cycle 3 001

In my experience, most kids like the abstract week–they feel it’s easy to succeed with. (Although there are always a few who feel uncomfortable with it. They’d prefer to stick with realism.) Encourage your students to have fun, try new things, and experiment! Note: Just be mindful that because you are asking students to draw classmates, make sure that is attempted only if you’ve established the classroom as a respectful, safe place for all students and you are reasonably assured that students are of a maturity level to not draw in a way to ridicule others or be insensitive about students’ features. If you have a class where this is an issue still, I’d do abstract self-portraits with mirrors, not drawing other students.

Below are other lessons I used for Classical Conversations classes, cycle 3.

Other blogs:

Basic Shapes Drawing Lesson, Week 1, Classical Conversations

18 Tings We Didn’t Do This Summer (Is Summer Mom Guilt A Thing?)

Mirror-Image Drawing, Week 2, Classical Conversations, Native American

Upside-Down Drawing, Week 3

Letter to My Future Daughters-in-Law, from a Crunchy Mama


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18 Things I Didn’t Do This Summer (Is Summer Mom Guilt A Thing?)

Here we are–August, and the end of summer is in sight, counted by number of weekends left. And I mourn it.

There’s always stuff we didn’t fit in during the summer–stuff I put off during the rest of the year, saying, “Oh, we can do that in the summer!” Do you have a list of things you didn’t get done yet? Here’s my list:

  • Getting my son together with his oldest friend whom he’s not seen in a year (I promised they could get to see each other multiple times over the summer!)
  • A once-a-month trip to see grandparents
  • Going to Knoebels’ Amusement park a second time (during said trip to grandparents)
  • IMG_0885
  • Free Fridays at the PA history museum for my history buff son
  • Playing in the Yellow Breeches Creek
  • Playing in the creek at a local park, where the kids love to build dams
  •  Getting together with a number of different families we never have time to get together with during the school year
  • Going to the fossil pit and rest of attractions at Montour Preserve. (That’s been on my list for YEARS. My grandmother took me all the time as a kid, and I’ve STILL not taken my kids!)
  • Going walking regularly at local parks with good trails, letting the kids bike. (Not. even. once. yet. )
  • Yoga once a week at the gym. (Went once so far.)
  • Swimming often at the lake, our only access to swimming around here.
  • Re-organizing kids’ rooms, a number  of closets, school supplies, kitchen cupboards. (That could be it’s own long list, but I’ll spare you. I’ve started on one project in that list.)
  • Plan curriculum and lesson plans for this coming school year
  • Read aloud to my kids every day for fun. (But I find this works only if we’re actually home. What’d’ya know?)
  • Take advantage of the library’s awesome summer kids programming on Thursdays (It’s over now. Didn’t get to even one.)
  • Check out a free morning kids’ movie at the local theater. (Never got there either.)
  • Take the kids bowling, using that free pass we got from the library.
  • Enjoy days where routinely being home leads to boredom, then boredom leads to the kind of creativity that I remember as a kid living on a farm at the top of a hill with nowhere to go.

I won’t even get into my list for myself–my own personal and professional goals that concern me and not the kids! (I’m afraid to even make a list of my personal goals of finishing a final edit of my novel, prepping to teach new classes in the fall for junior high ages students, and getting outside to exercise every day….)


(We did manage a family vacation, thankfully!)

You may have realized that my list reveals a Catch 22. There are  some mutually exclusive goals there. I can’t actually take my kids to all those places and give them the kind of summer I had (where boredom leads to creativity). I can’t take them once a month to see grandparents without missing 4 or more days of time to accomplish other things going on where I live.

Everything you say yes to is an intrinsic no to something else. It’s just true. I’ve often tried to beat that math. I can do this and that. We can meet at the park with those friends in the morning and still attend that other event. This is the struggle summer has given me for years now. After a school year of never having time to do those special things, I ma trying to fit in as many as I can in approximately three months. But a yes to something is STILL a no to something else. You can attend two events in the same day and therefore think you can say yes to everything–but the principal still holds. You are saying no to something. Is it sleep? Is it time kids need to rest? Is it your or their patience or wit (disappearing under stress or too-much-busyness)? Time at home to keep up with housework? Or the garden? It’s ALWAYS something.

And I really dislike that. I want to sleep in–because we can! I want slow, leisure time! I want the garden. It’s peaceful and restorative to me to tend one. But a previous summer taught me how imperative it is to be home enough to actually be able to care for and harvest the food. That was the summer I managed to take the kids away for almost a whole week each month of the summer to see grandparents. And go on a family vacation. And work a couple of conferences. We just were not home a ton. And produce grew and rotted on the vine before I could get home and known it was ripe!

Now this summer was different than the others in that something beyond my control dictated that I didn’t go out of town as much. But I also didn’t do a lot of other things on that list. I’ve been tired and recuperating from an unexpected injury. That has forced me to say no to a lot of things. Just so I could say “yes” to–drum roll please: lying in bed with an ice pack. Being still in a quiet room, in pain. Slowly, gradually, recovering function. Managing to just make meals for my family and get the dishwasher emptied. (There were days that seemed in insurmountable task. It was mentally exhausting to look at that dishwasher; I wondered how I or anyone, had routinely emptied it. Every. Day. (!)

So yes, this summer was “worse” for me in the sense that I didn’t accomplish even more of my “fun” to do list and my “necessary” to do list. I had to say no to some travel, some plans, some visits with friends, some things I wanted to be involved in. And I’ve looked back and have seen times  did push it–days I expected too much of myself, thinking that just because I was getting better that I was well enough to expect myself to be ale to manage a full plate like I had done when completely well.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I just don’t want to say no to whole  categories of things. Our summers have been a little bit of everything (meaning that I’m disappointed we didn’t get to do more of many things. But for me to do any of those things more often, I’d have ot skip others entirely. Do I want to have the kids not do the library reading program at all? Not swim at all? Not go out of town at all? Not make play-dates at parks with other families at all? Cna i sacrifice those in order to exercise more or get the kids ot more programs? I’ve continually let myself get frustrated  by the inability to accomplish certain things with the kids/for the kids–experiences I want them to have. But they really cannot have it all!

My challenge for next summer is to choose not to be frustrated by what I choose. What I want and desire for our summer isn’t actually possible. I simply need tocommit to what I’ve chosen and stop allowing frustration about it to reign. My kids can have the summer of being home and playing outside all day, splashing in the kiddie poo and running in the hose water–getting tan and doing–(well, I don’t know exactly all that they’d be doing). We’ve never had the kind of long summer home that would show me what new things they’d do with that time outside.) Or my kids can have the summer that connects them to all their close  friends from various places whom they do not see during the year. Or we cna go to all the activities at parks, libraries, theaters, etc. Or we can do some of all of that–a smattering of things not to repeated–until perhaps next year. ut whatever it is, I challenge myself to come ot peace with that reality.

NO one can really do ti all. Even if they manage the facade of it, there’s always something neglected, even if it’s not visible or it’s behind the scenes. (like my neglected garden of a previous year or spring/summer cleaning never done, or lack of sleep/rest evident in the kid’).

In an effort to be content, we did do some things this summer:

  • one outdoor entertainment at a local park
  • short family vacation
  • one day at Knoebels’ amusement park
  • reading aloud to them, some days
  • two VBS weeks they really wanted to go to
  • one short trip to see grandparnets
  • doing the library reading program, even if we missed all the events: the magician, the reptile guy, the puppet show, etc.
  • play dates with a few families on our list


Summer is not the endless promise it seemed to me as a kid. The endless, day-less entity in which I could get lost nad not even reckon time. (That was glorious though, wasn’t it?) Summer is finite and really only 12-16 weeks long.

In all of this, I am accomplishing one big goal, no matter: summer is, for my kids, different than the rest of the year. It’s a time of perceived freedom–later bed times, sleeping in, virtually no cap on daylight so play outside in the evening extends… Maybe that’s’ all they really need in the end—not my long list of plans in my head.

Does anyone else struggle with such issues in the summer?


Other articles:

The “Perfect” Schedule–and When It Falls Apart

Making Your Homeschool Schedule (and the revelation of a circle graph)

Basic Shapes Drawing Lesson, Week 1, Classical Conversations





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Upside-Down Drawing, Week 3

The biggest impediment to drawing is our assumptions. We often miss the actual size or shape of a line or area because we get stuck or intimidated about what we think it should look like.

The idea behind having kids draw an  is upside-down image is to help students see only what is actually there, not what they think is there.  Here is my lesson for week 3, Upside-down drawing, for Classical Conversations. I did this in cycle 3 for a class of Masters students (ages 9-12) who really were into the subject matter of the drawing.

Because the point of this exercise is to allow the trick to help us see the truth of the lines and basic shapes, I will take you through this tutorial the way my students do it: with the mystery. If I showed you the drawing now, I’d rob you of the opportunity to see if it works for you AND keep you from the experience students have in this.

Prep #1 at home: Make copies of what you want students to draw. Especially if you have older, returning students, they expect to get an upside-down drawing. The entire idea of the exercise is to trick the brain to see merely lines and shapes–and not get distracted by complex images of real life that may intimidate. The attempt is lost if kids can flip the drawing around.

Problem: returning students know to expect this “trick,” so it’s hard to let the trick work its magic. Some get stubborn and don’t even want to try it upside down. Others will try, but keep craning their heads and bodies to keep seeing the drawing right-side-up, and it all results in really funny drawings that show that the lesson didn’t help the students in the least! (Because they weren’t game for giving it a shot.)

So to try to preserve the intent of the exercise by trying to preserve a mystery, I tape construction paper over part of the drawing. For this exercise, I divided the drawing into three parts by drawing faint lines across the page in 2 places. What my students get is just one section at a time visible, the rest covered by construction paper.

Prep #2: At the end of this post, you can see my original and where I drew the lines to divide it into thirds. To make this go faster in class, I suggest that you also draw, at home, the lines on the blank sheet of paper the students will draw on. Easiest way: lay the original lion with its dividing pencil lines on a surface. Lay a blank sheet right next to it. On the blank paper, make a dot right next to the end of the lines on the original drawing. To get the dot on the other side of the blank paper, move the ion drawing to the other side, line up again, right next to each other, and draw the dots on the blank paper right next to where the dividing lines begin on the original. Last, take a ruler and connect those pairs of dots across the paper. You’ll end up with the blank paper divided exactly as the original drawing. (Students CAN do this with instruction, but I wanted to use the time for drawing.)

Step #1. Pass out to students the drawing, covered with construction paper for all but the top section of the page (which is in fact the bottom of the drawing.) Of course they will try to guess what it is. Some may guess correctly, but I say nothing to affirm or deny.

I ask students to trace the basic shapes (and the simple geometric shapes they compose) they see directly onto the paper, as I instructed in the OiLs lesson 1. This is fast and loose–not painstaking and exact. I found a lot of ovals in this and some great, curvy lines, and a triangle. Other s may see the shapes differently, and that’s ok.

lion top tracing 001 (2)


Step # 2. On a blank sheet of paper you have handed out, ask the student to transfer their basic shapes to it. Remind them they can measure the sizes of these basic shapes–and measure the size of the blank spaces separating them, the skill we learned last week.

As they draw, I model this on the board, drawing with a marker on the white board to transfer the basic shapes I traced onto my original. I make a point to show that I draw multiple ovals in one space, until i get the shape right. I don’t bother to erase the light lines of the “drafts”–that’s for later. This is meant to be done fast and loose, drawing lightly until we’re sure.

lion top basic shapes drawing 001 (2)

Step #3. This looks really, simple. Really, really basic. Good–that’s the goal. Before refining that sketch or adding details, we need to get down the whole form.

Now you or a parent helper can carefully move the taped construction paper down to the next faint pencil line that bisects the paper in half. Now the students should trace the basic shapes on the black-line drawing for section #2.

lion middle tracing 001 (2)

Now more is revealed and many students may have no doubt what the image is. But hopefully, the mystery remained long enough to help them see it differently.

Step #4. Transfer the basic shapes to other paper. Again, measure when necessary to see how wide and long shapes are. Keep the lines light and meandering until you find the right shape.

lion middle basic shapes drawing 001

Step #5. Ok, finally! Take the paper off, revealing the rest of the drawing! Trace basic shapes on that section.

lion bottom tracing 001 (2)

Step # 6. transfer basic shapes to other paper. Such an unusual view of the face can intimidate people, so hopefully having to break the shapes down to the rectangles and triangles will help them see the REAL shape of the face!

lion bottom basic shapes drawing 001 (2)


Step # 7. This is a preference, but at this point, you may want to tell you kids they can turn the drawings right-side up. (And they’ve all noticed this drawing was on its side–not upside down. Such is my tactic for returning students who expect somthing upside-down; I just gave them the drawing oriented a different way.)

I prefer to turn the drawing right-side-up before adding details. Why? Because we’ve recorded the basic proportions and shapes–the part that tricks us.

lion bottom details 001 (2)

Step #8 Now ask students to refine their lines by carefully looking at the original again. They should erase ones they don’t want to keep. You may still see ghosts of erased lines on my drawing. Last, add in all the details: eyes, foot pads, detailed lines of the mane, etc.

Post-class reflections:


The key in this task is teaching then to get the basic shapes down, fast and loose–the whole form quick, so that then they can go back and refine the rest.

Some students struggled because they couldn’t resist working on details, despite repeated encouragements from me to wait for the details! The problem was they ran out of time to get the whole form down and in proportion.


I found the original as a coloring page online, but just now I cannot relocate it.

lion original 001 (2)

So your drawing could be Aslan, as it was for my Narnia-loving class, or just any lion. (It could go with cycle 1’s science taxonomy memory work.)

So for those of you who have tried this or another approach, what do you think are the keys for making this lesson successful? Share in the comments!



Other posts:

Mirror-Image Drawing, Week 2, Classical Conversations, Native American

18 Things I Didn’t Do This Summer (Is Summer Mom Guilt A Thing?)

Personalized Theme Alphabet for Preschool/K

Basic Shapes Drawing Lesson, Week 1, Classical Conversations

How I Talk to My Students about Drawing on Day One

Creating an Encouraging Classroom

Making Your Homeschool Schedule (and the revelation of a circle graph)










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